Why Two Different 3G-Enabled iPad 2s?

Earlier this morning, iFixit published some interesting pictures of the internals of the iPad 2, showing different baseband (3G) chipsets for the at&t (GSM) and Verizon (CDMA) versions of the device: an Infineon chip for the former, and a Qualcomm chip for the later. While early reports seem to indicate that the use of different baseband chipsets in the two 3G versions of the iPad 2 was a decision designed to cut costs, we’re thinking otherwise, as the use of different chipsets most likely increased costs: from design to production lines, building separate versions of the device required – and still requires – more resources, distinct teams, and additional testing. Call us paranoid, but we’re not convinced that building different designs was a decision made by Apple.

iPad 2 baseband boards – Left: GSM – Right: CDMA (pictures: iFixIt)

The above photos show distinct designs, but if you pay enough attention, you will notice that the CDMA version of the iPad 2 comes with a Qualcomm MDM6600 baseband chipset, the same as the one used inside the Verizon iPhone 4. According to the MDM6600 specifications sheet, the chipset is compatible with the following technologies:
  • GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
  • UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA: 800-850/900/1900/2100 MHz and AWS band (1700/2100 MHz)
  • CDMA 1xRTT/EV-DO rev0/EV-DO revA: 800/1900 MHz
Translated in plain English, the specs literally mean the chipset is compatible with both at&t and Verizon’s networks. Also note that the use of the MDM6600 significantly reduced the complexity of the CDMA iPad 2 baseband board. So why would Apple not design a single 3G-enabled iPad 2, since the CDMA iPad 2 could theoretically work with at&t’s network as well? Most likely because both at&t and Verizon asked Apple to build separate devices, to make them incompatible with each other. The CDMA iPad 2 sports a chipset compatible with at&t’s network, but since the device does not come with a SIM card tray, no hack will ever allow it to work on at&t’s network. The same goes for the GSM iPad 2, it cannot work on CDMA, since its baseband is not compatible with the technology at all. It will be interesting to see how the situation evolves, especially when the iPhone 5 is released. If rumors prove to be correct, the device will be compatible with 4G LTE, a technology currently being rolled out by both Verizon and at&t, which means that the same device could potentially work on both networks.